"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
I began reading this delicious novel about voodoo and Jamaica and I couldn’t help but think of James Michener. Granted, James went much further in his historical novels, but Larry gave him a run for his money in White Witch.
We begin in 1812 Jamaica. Annie Palmer is not only a sadistic plantation owner, she is a black widow. She mates and she kills. She is an Obeah priestess, the White Witch.
I love the Caribbean. It is my favorite travel destination. To me, nothing compares to the raw beauty and power of the islands. The mix of the old and the new draws me into the mix of the tumultuous world of voodoo and bauxite mining, greed and history will be bumping heads in a big way. For some reason, lately I have been reading a lot of books that deal with mining…and it is never in a good way. Is it a current theme in the publishing and writing world? No matter, I am eager to begin.
Will is rough, tough, a o nonsense kind of guy. Right off you know better than to push him too far. He’s a decorated Seal and he’s head of security for Global American Metals. I start off not liking the guy. Can he redeem himself in my eyes? We shall see.
He’s sent to Jamaica to smooth the ruffled feathers of the Maroons, who have plenty to say about the strip mining of their tropical rain forest.
A tropical rain forest, an unhappy nation of Maroons, a curse, voodoo, and now a dead body. Let’s rock!
All the ugliness of corporate greed rears its ugly head. The only reason I am not super ticked off is because I believe the destruction of the rain forest, at least if Annie has anything to say about it, will never happen.
It takes a novel like this to make some people think about the environment, let alone a rain forest. I love when novels contain important elements of real life, making them more believable.
White Witch by Larry D Thompson is so much more than what I was expecting. The twisting and turning, the mystery and danger, the tension and suspense kept me reading into the wee hours of the morning. I love when an author can incorporate fact and fiction with a little mysticism into an adventure that makes me see an exotic tropical island in a new light. I knew some of Jamaica’s history from reading and visiting this world tropical paradise. That makes it easier to get lost in the story.
One good thing about all of the snow was that it felt great to stay inside and write. As I sat writing and watched the big white flakes fall, I marveled when I remembered that each snowflake is unique, in the same way that each of our stories is unique.
One of the principles I use when developing a new TV series or screenplay is to encourage the writer to be as specific as possible. The more specific we are, the more universal we are. By embracing your personal past, ethnicity and race, the better the work gets, and the deeper the connection with the intended audience.
I met with my friend, Ken Atchity last week. Ken is a former professor turned producer, and is rare combination of erudite erudition, streetwise savvy and kindness. He has just written a new book, Sell Your Story To Hollywood: Writer’s Pocket Guide To The Business of Show Business.
There’s a lot of meaty information, but one thing that really spoke to me was his advice to writers when waiting for a meeting, for the deal to close, or production to happen. DON’T WAIT! Do something while you wait.
Work on a new project. Every story has it’s own flow and it can take 10 minutes or ten years to set up a project. One of my colleagues just sold a project to Netflix that took ten years!
Ken quotes Ray Bradbury: “ Start writing more. It’ll get rid of those moods you’re having.”
I’m looking forward to speaking to FilmMakeHers, a dynamic group of women dedicated to furthering their careers in the business. I will be giving a talk about how to use The Four Magic Questions Of Screenwriting when structuring a film or TV pilot. I’m planning to have the attendees use the technique to either structure a new story, or review one they are currently working on during the three-hour class. It’s so exciting to work on new stories with new people!
Ask you write, consider how your personal history can successfully influence your work, and appreciate your own uniqueness.
Here's to your successful writing!
Professor Marilyn Horowitz
Film Courage: What key steps did you take to go from being a tenured professor? Most people would do many things that aren’t good to be in those shoes. I’m sure first of all you had to deal with social pressure, people were probably trying to talk you out of it…maybe not? What steps did you take?
Dr. Ken Atchity, producer/author: Well…in retrospect you can always make it look more planned and logical than what it was at the time. But I basically…I ran into a very inspiring many whose name is Norman Cousins who was the editor of Saturday Review world of those days and he came to speak in a class of mine at Occidental College and it turned out we shared a motto that no one else in the world had ever heard of and that motto was a single sentence by the Spanish philosopher [José] Ortega y Gasset that said “I think the only immoral thing is for a being not to use every instant of its existence with the utmost intensity.” And I had never heard anyone else quote that, but after his talk in my class I asked him to come to my office and I showed him that it was framed above my desk and so needless to say we bonded.
Long story short, I asked him what I should do when I grow up which I’d asked male authority figures all my life basically. He told me after we got to know each other that I should consider the entertainment business because it was much broader than the academic world and people can basically do whatever…anything creative you’re encouraged to do basically. You can find your own way. There are no rules and schedules and all of those kind of things that we find in academia.
And I love academic you know? The world and the ideas that are exchanged and all of that. But it was restricting and it was (for me) suffocating. Which is a word that means a lot to me personally. It’s my most ancient nightmare being suffocated and I’ve never been suffocated in the… (Watch more video interviews with Ken Atchity here).
Film Courage: Ken, as a tenured professor in your mid-40s, what made you think you could change careers?
Dr. Ken Atchity, producer and author: Well, this is America and you can do whatever you want to do. It’s one of the great things about this country.
What I was doing was very related to a career I’m in now. It was developing stories, developing writers, and of course, teaching a number of things that I no longer teach like classical literature and Italian literature.
So it’s all united by storytelling. I had no idea which world was sort of the bigger world of ideas, the world of academia that I had been in for 17 years, or the world I went into. And I discovered that the world I went into was really the world of ideas, because it’s a world in which people are tracking ideas across continents to find out who owns the rights to a story.
They pay lots of money to acquire the story (at least they used to pay lots of money) and they spend millions of dollars to turn the story into a movie and they’re fiercely competitive about the world of ideas. The motion picture business is the jungle of ideas and it’s survival of the best idea and the best business people.
I always say it’s called show business for a reason. It’s not just about show, it’s about the business of how stories get developed into movies that the whole world can see.
Film Courage: I’m hoping we can go back to maybe before you made this transition to wanting to be in film? Was there something that happened, was there a time in your life that where you felt like “You know what? I want a new challenge.”
Dr. Ken Atchity: That’s a good question because I’ve reflected on it all of my life since then and it was actually provoked by my receiving tenure. I actually belonged to an untenured faculty committee against tenure. One day when I was a Fulbright professor in Bologna, Italy, I got a telegraph from the Dean of the faculty at Occidental College telling me that I’d received tenure in my absence.
And my reaction to it was not very understandable to my friends and colleagues. I became deeply depressed for about a year. And it took me a long time to figure out why I was depressed and it was because I had really never asked to be in this golden cage where nothing can happen to you. It was like the most secure place you could be and I realized at the time that my father’s chief value in life was security. He was a child of The Depression and security was all important to him. And I had to admit to myself that it wasn’t that important to me. I never worried about being secure. I’d published lots of things and I was in demand as a speaker and just never had to worry about it.
And what I valued was freedom and I didn’t feel and I didn’t feel freedom when under a structure where you had to behave a certain way and you had to know a year in advance that on the week of October 12th you’d be teaching the 8th book of The Iliad. And it was wonderful to be teaching The Iliad, but that to know a year in advance you were going to be somewhere.
I now live in a world where I don’t know where I am going to be tomorrow literally and it’s complete opposite, it’s a free world. And of course I realized that as I got older that freedom is as much an illusion as security (both of them are illusions), but it was my illusion. Security was not my illusion and so I’ve lived with complete insecurity. But with the freedom to express myself creatively and in every possible way (which is what the film business allows me to do) and so that was very exciting to me.
Film Courage: And do you ever tell people that? If they are looking to be in a creative pursuit whether it’s being an author or screenwriter or actor, that security will probably be something that they will not encounter and to be okay with that?
Dr. Ken Atchity: Absolutely. I mean this is not a career to wish on anyone. You have to have a burning desire to do it and you have to be willing to sacrifice anything to do it and to persist despite every setback and I can tell you that this is a business in which (a career) this never gets easier, I don’t care how many movies you’ve done. The next one is going to be the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced, the world changes all the time. It’s been changing ever since I’ve been in it which is around 30 years now and it never gets any easier and it never gets any more secure and even if you’ve had windfalls and lot.
For over two decades, readers have been spellbound by the gripping writing of Steve Alten. His absorbing work has traversed the entire timeline of existence from the dawn of life on earth to 12 million years in the future. He mingles fact with fiction to create mesmerizing tales of wonder driven by a palpable sense of urgency. However, as solid as his writing has remained over the past 22 years, behind the scenes, his career has been filled with vacillating waves of unfathomable twists and turns that have resulted in both devastating gut punches and rousing triumphs.
This year, after decades of struggles and false starts, the world will finally get to experience Steve’s work in a vibrant new way. On August 10, The MEG will hit the big screen in what is being touted as the blockbuster movie event of the summer! In this Q&A, Steve was completely open about his amazing journey to this point in his life.
Could you share your personal story about your roller coaster career as an author?
Well, I have always loved shark stories, ever since reading JAWS as a teen. After reading Benchley’s novel, I went straight to the library and checked out every true-life Great White shark attack story… in the process I came across little blurbs about Megalodon, the prehistoric cousin of the Great White, usually accompanied by a black & white photo of six scientists seated in a MEG jaw. But there was nothing else out there.
Flash forward 20 years: Despite ten years of college and a doctorate degree in education, I was struggling to support a family of five. I tried multi-level marketing while I was selling whole house water treatment systems… or I should say not selling too many of them. In August of 1995, TIME published an article on the Mariana Trench and deep water hydrothermal vents and I thought to myself… what if that big shark was still alive down there — if it’s scientifically plausible, that might make a really cool novel. So I set a goal — I’d spend 30 days researching the story in the library (there was no internet back then) and write 3-4 pages a night (from 11 p.m. until 3 a.m.) and weekends.
Six months later, I had a 400+ page manuscript but no connections in publishing, so I bought a book on how to get published. Following the instructions, I sent out 2-page query letters to every literary agent who handled fiction. About 70 letters went out… only one agent saw the vision — Ken Atchity at AEI. To pay for editing fees, I sold my 1971 Chevy convertible — a gift from my father when I was seventeen. I also took a job working as a sales manager for a wholesale meat company, and was eventually promoted to GM… crazy story. Anyway, working with an AEI editor, I rewrote the manuscript that became MEG.
On September, Friday the 13th in 1996, I came to work, only to learn I no longer had a job. I drove home to tell my wife, “This is the best thing that could have happened honey, now I can work on my next book.” She was upset — we were down to our last $48. Four days later, Ken started a bidding war for MEG’s publishing rights, which weeks earlier had received a first rights offer from Disney’s Hollywood Pictures, and the rollercoaster that has been my life these last 22 years began.
The ups included a two-book, seven figure deal from Bantam-Doubleday, the house that published JAWS. MEG hit every best-seller list, including #19 on the NY Times list (#5 audio) while Bantam-Doubleday sold the foreign rights for over $1.3 million. The downs — my second book deal was cancelled two weeks before I was to be paid a lot of money (a lot of authors who received big advances were canned just before Bertlesmann took over the company). Then the president of Hollywood Pictures was fired and the movie rights were reverted. Total money lost — over $1,500,000.
Bye-bye new house, bye bye new cars… I basically had to start over again. Plus, we had to sue to get the rights back to my second story, a thriller about the Mayan Doomsday prophecy in 2012, which my editor wanted to be another underwater thriller. I gave them what they wanted… but it was not a good book.
Flash ahead to 2005: Having schooled myself on becoming a better writer, I wrote the MEG sequel, The TRENCH (Kensington), and it too was a best-seller. We eventually got the rights back to the Mayan Doomsday book that was cancelled by Bantam-Doubleday and I rewrote the entire book. It was released by Tor/Forge in the States as DOMAIN. Years later, it was sold under the name The Mayan Prophecy and it was #1 in Spain, Mexico, and Argentina and a big seller in Europe. I also wrote and published Resurrection (Domain part 2), Goliath, and The LOCH.
Thanks to my friend, Nick Nunziata and his friends, producer Lloyd Levin and Guillermo del Toro, we put together a package for MEG with a script I had penned with director Jan de Bont. New Line Cinema optioned MEG, but the new screenwriter sidestepped the novel and basically rewrote Moby Dick with a shark. The studio wanted rewrites, but the foreign rights were undersold, killing the ability to underwrite the budget. After two years of chaos among the producers and studio, the rights again reverted back to me.
In retrospect, these negatives were good things in that it forced me to become a much better writer, plus MEG eventually ended up in the right person’s hands. But the stress took its toll on me and in 2006 I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.
In 2007, I optioned MEG’s movie rights to producer Belle Avery and continued writing. The SHELL GAME (best-seller), MEG: Primal Waters, MEG: Hell’s Aquarium (best-seller), Grim Reaper, SHARKMAN, The OMEGA PROJECT (top 4 summer selection by Barnes & Noble), VOSTOK, and UNDISCLOSED. Meanwhile, Belle Avery was working her magic. After seven long years of hard work and perseverance, Belle Avery, Gravity Pictures, and Warner Bros. are about to bring The MEG into theaters (the trailer debuts in theaters on my good luck day — Friday the 13th (of April 2018), the movie releasing on August 10).
I am currently finishing my sixth and best MEG novel, MEG: GENERATIONS. It will be out in June, but the hardback can only be purchased at www.SteveAlten.com by pre-ordering through April and won’t be sold in stores or on Amazon. The ebook will be available in June. It’s a strange marketing plan for sure, but I wanted to do something special for my MEGheads — my loyal MEG fan base.
What did you learn about storytelling from finishing that first book?
Ken taught me a lot. He said writing a book is like preparing a fish to cook — you cut off the head and tail and start with the meat in the middle. I also learned a lot about beat sheets and organizing the skeleton of the story — all things I have passed down to my WRITING COACH students, six of whom have also been published.
Is Ken Atchity still your manager?
We had parted ways after the New Line deal ended, but recently found each other again and he is once more my manager. Danny Baror at Baror International continues to manage all foreign rights to my books.
Are there any other Alten novels optioned for TV or movies?
Yes. Belle and her team have optioned The LOCH for theatrical release, and my series SHARKMAN has been optioned for TV. I also have several books that Ken will take out soon, including a laugh-out-loud comedy called DOG TRAINING THE AMERICAN MALE, written under the pen name L. A. Knight.
Why do you believe The MEG movie finally happened? What was the magic that made this movie not only get greenlit, but made into what sure looks like a billion dollar franchise?
In truth, it’s all about the undying passion and commitment of Belle Avery. There may be bigger name producers attached to The MEG, but make no mistake, this never happens without Belle. She resuscitated it in Hollywood and got it financed in China, then brought it to Warner Bros. She is the only person I truly trust with my work… a total team player.
Were you ever on set?
Not this time around. But my daughter, Kelsey, went over to China during the shoot. They dressed her up as an Asian girl and let her be an extra. That meant a lot to me.
Did you get to meet any of the actors?
Not yet. I sent them all signed books and look forward to meeting them at the premiere. It’s an amazing ensemble, led by Jason Statham.
What is next from Steve Alten?
I’m finishing up MEG: GENERATIONS, then it’s on to SHARKMAN-2.
Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter, his credits include the feature film My Favorite Year, for which he was nominated for a WGA Award for Best Screenplay. He was also a staff writer for the ABC-TV series Welcome Back, Kotter, and has written numerous series episodes and pilots.
Currently, he writes the weekly “Hollywood on the Couch” column for the Psychology Today website, and blogs regularly for The Huffington Post.
The fifth book in the Daniel Rinaldi series HEAD WOUNDS is published by Poisoned Pen Press
The copyright for the first Mickey Mouse film, Steamboat Willie, is scheduled to expire in 2024, though Disney would still hold a trademark for the Mickey Mouse brand. One guaranteed result: lots of work for lawyers.
On January 1, 2019, every book, film, and song published in 1923 will fall out of copyright protection—something that hasn't happened in 40 years. At least, that's what will happen if Congress doesn't retroactively change copyright law to prevent it—as Congress has done two previous times.
Until the 1970s, copyright terms only lasted for 56 years. But Congress retroactively extended the term of older works to 75 years in 1976. Then on October 27, 1998—just weeks before works from 1923 were scheduled to fall into the public domain—President Bill Clinton signed legislation retroactively extending the term of older works to 95 years, locking up works published in 1923 or later for another 20 years.
Will Congress do the same thing again this year? To find out, we talked to groups on both sides of the nation's copyright debate—to digital rights advocates at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge and to industry groups like the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America. To our surprise, there seemed to be universal agreement that another copyright extension was unlikely to be on the agenda this year.
"We are not aware of any such efforts, and it's not something we are pursuing," an RIAA spokesman told us when we asked about legislation to retroactively extend copyright terms.
"While copyright term has been a longstanding topic of conversation in policy circles, we are not aware of any legislative proposals to address the issue," the MPAA told us.
Presumably, many of the MPAA's members would gladly take a longer copyright term if they could get it. For example, Disney's copyright for the first Mickey Mouse film, Steamboat Willie, is scheduled to expire in 2024. But the political environment has shifted so much since 1998 that major copyright holders may not even try to extend copyright terms before they start to expire again.
The politics of copyright have changed dramatically
In 2013, on the 15th anniversary of the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act, I wrote an in-depth look at the legislative fight over that bill. I talked to Dennis Karjala, a law professor who was part of the lonely opposition to longer copyright terms in the 1990s. He died last year.
"There was not a single argument that actually can stand up to any kind of reasonable analysis," Karjala told me. But that didn't matter very much because the lobbying muscle was entirely on one side. Major movie studios joined forces with the estates of famous authors and musicians to push for a copyright extension.
Most of the public considered copyright to be a boring subject with little relevance to their daily lives, so there was little grassroots interest in the issue. Karjala hoped that professional associations of librarians and historians—which had traditionally been important advocates for the public interest on copyright issues—would help stop the bill. But the legislation had so much momentum that these groups decided to settle for minor changes to the legislation. So the bill wound up passing without a significant fight.
The rise of the Internet has totally changed the political landscape on copyright issues. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is much larger than it was in 1998. Other groups, including Public Knowledge, didn't even exist 20 years ago. Internet companies—especially Google—have become powerful opponents of expanding copyright protections.
Most importantly, there's now a broad grassroots engagement on copyright issues—something that became evident with the massive online protests against the infamous Stop Online Piracy Act in 2012. SOPA would have forced ISPs to enforce DNS-based blacklists of sites accused of promoting piracy. It was such a bad idea that Wikipedia, Google, and other major sites blacked themselves out in protest. The digital rights activist group Demand Progress emerged from the SOPA fight and has gone on to play a key role organizing protests over network neutrality and other issues.
The protest against SOPA "was a big show of force," says Meredith Rose, a lawyer at Public Knowledge. The protest showed that "the public really cares about this stuff."
The defeat of SOPA was so complete that it has essentially ended efforts by copyright interests to expand copyright protection via legislation. Prior to SOPA, Congress would regularly pass bills ratcheting up copyright protections (like the 2008 PRO-IP Act, which beefed up anti-piracy efforts). Since 2012, copyright has been a legislative stalemate, with neither side passing significant legislation.
And that means that advocates of a new copyright term extension bill wouldn't be able to steamroll opponents the way they did 20 years ago. Any term extension proposal would face a well-organized and well-funded opposition with significant grassroots support.
"After the SOPA fight, Hollywood likely knows that the public would fight back," wrote Daniel Nazer, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in an email to Ars. "I suspect that Big Content knows it would lose the battle and is smart enough not to fight."
"I haven't seen any evidence that Big Content companies plan to push for another term extension," Nazer added. "This is an election year, so if they wanted to get a big ticket like that through Congress, you would expect to see them laying the groundwork with lobbying and op-eds."
Of course, copyright interests might try to slip a copyright term extension into a must-pass bill in hopes opponents wouldn't notice until it was too late. But Rose doesn't think that would work.
Not only are there many more copyright reform advocates in Washington now than there were 20 years ago, but they're also well-networked with other public interest groups, she told Ars in a phone interview. As a result, there are "a lot of different eyes on different bills."
"The likelihood of it slipping by unnoticed" is low, Rose said.
And even some content creators aren't keen on ever-longer copyright terms. The Authors Guild, for example, "does not support extending the copyright term, especially since many of our members benefit from having access to a thriving and substantial public domain of older works," a Guild spokeswoman told Ars in an email. "If anything, we would likely support a rollback to a term of life-plus-50 if it were politically feasible."
In my 2013 article, I wrote that "the question for the coming legislative battle on copyright is who will prevail." But now it looks like there probably won't be a legislative battle at all because hardly anyone is pushing for another extension. And that means we might actually see works start to fall into the public domain next year.
Accomplished writer Dennis Palumbo calls his latest novel “Head Wounds” and the grim title should serve as a warning. This psychological thriller has some fine language and a strong narrative pull that keeps the pages turning, but the series of crimes that occur are unnerving.
What lightens the book are Mr. Palumbo’s descriptions of its Pittsburgh setting, interesting interpretations of abnormal psychology, and its likable main character, Daniel Rinaldi.
Dan may bring to mind superstar novelist Jonathan Kellerman’s longtime hero, Alex Delaware. Both Mr. Kellerman and Mr. Palumbo trained as therapists and both of their creations are clinical psychologists who consult for their local police departments. While Alex investigates crimes with irrepressible detective Milo Sturgis, Dan is assisted here by retired FBI profiler Lyle Barnes and a current agent on leave, the sexy Gloria Reese.
The story starts in Dan’s home on Grandview Avenue. After a long night filled with harrowing incidents, it becomes clear that he is the target of a diabolical villain. Over 330 pages “a brilliant psychopath from Blackridge” named Sebastian Maddox uses cameras, klieg lights, tracking devices, C-4, guns, talking drones, GPS, subdural implants and a mannequin to make Dan suffer. Maddox ‘bots Dan’s cell and laptop and hacks into patient files and the FBI’s computers. It all seems implausible, except who knows what’s available online these days, or even at RadioShack.
Maddox compiles a kill list of people close to Dan that includes relatives, clients and a “features writer from the Post-Gazette.”
The psychologist is able to deduce where Maddox will strike next based on the killer’s need for symmetry, “one of the ways his mind attempts to order itself.” Maddox also has erotomania, “a delusional disorder in which a person believes another person is in love with them.” Turns out that person is Dan’s late wife, Barbara, who was a linguistics professor at Pitt.
This reference to the University of Pittsburgh is just one of many. Mr. Palumbo calls the Cathedral of Learning “regal and timeless” and describes “the ponderous, chilled embrace of Medieval-style masonry.”
People in the story wear Pitt Panthers and Steelers sweatshirts, drive on the parkway, and get their news from KDKA. Mr. Palumbo often does more than just mention Pittsburgh landmarks; he characterizes the city in both positive and negative ways.
He brands the area as vaguely racist, “where ethnic pride and ethnic prejudice lived side by side.” The “classic Pittsburgh accent” comes up and words such as slippy, jagoff and yinz are included: “Slang that you still hear sometimes, even as the Steel City continues to morph from blue-collar, industrial town into a gentrified, white-collar hub of business and technology.”
The rivers also get a nod. One foul deed takes place on the Ohio in McKees Rocks while on the Mon, off Second Avenue, Mr. Palumbo has invented a bar that would be fun to have in Pittsburgh. This converted coal barge named Noah’s Ark is run by Dan’s former patient, Noah, whose band is called Flat Affect because all the members are on meds.
As “Head Wounds” rolls to its clever, crazy gothic conclusion, no one could accuse Mr. Palumbo of being flat. This is the fifth book in his Daniel Rinaldi series and most readers will hope Dan lives to see a sixth.
The Meg star Jason Statham revealed that he went swimming with real sharks to prepare for his starring role in the monster shark thriller. Due out on August 10, the latest from director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) stars Statham as a deep sea rescue diver who’s tasked with saving people from the Megalodon, the massive prehistoric shark that has been the subject of both intensive scientific study and plenty of B-movies.
In 2018, the Megalodon makes its way to the big screen with The Meg, which also stars Li Bingbing, Ruby Rose, and Rainn Wilson. Statham can be relied upon to deliver both thrills and a sense of humor as he typically does with his over-the-top action vehicles. But you may be surprised to learn that he went the extra mile for The Meg; he got ready for his role by interacting with actual sharks.
As he explained in an interview with EW, Statham took a trip to Fiji where he swam with 20-30 live bull sharks. Though they paled in comparison to the actual Megalodon in terms of size, Statham said they were each about three meters long. He said that he felt more scared about the excursion on the ride over than when he actually did it, which would presumably help him get in the right mindset for when he encounters a giant shark in the movie. Here’s how he described the experience:
“You know, it’s funny, because you get anxiety when you’re on the boat. But once you get in the ocean, things take a very different turn. You get very relaxed, and when you’re in their environment, it’s quite a tranquil sort of thing, the anxiety goes away completely. It’s remarkable to experience. All of the fear — or the perceived fear — is done in your own head before you get down there with them. Once you’re swimming down there with all the other divers, it’s phenomenal. It’s one of the greatest experiences you could have, for me anyway. I’m a big SCUBA diver fanatic. Wherever I am in the world, if I get a chance to get in the ocean, I do.”
In The Meg, Statham plays deep-sea diving expert Jonas Taylor, who got himself a dishonorable discharged early in his naval career when his crew had a tragic incident with what he claimed to be an attack from a 70-foot Megalodon – which ultimately cost him more than just his career. But Taylor gets a shot at redemption when he’s called upon to rescue the crew of a submersible stuck at the bottom of the ocean – and likely under attack from the same mammoth creature.
Clearly, Turteltaub and his crew weren’t satisfied with sticking Statham and the cast in front of green screens. With the movie centered around a giant extinct shark species, pre-production was ultimately the only way to give real live sharks an impact on it – unlike 2003’s Open Water, which actually filmed with real sharks. The hope is that Statham’s experience helps him get in character as Jonas Taylor, who appears to be on a trajectory from incredulous conspiracy theorist to discoverer of the massive beast – and ultimately the one to stop it. Even for Statham, who could be a kickass antihero with or without shark training, it’s important to look convincing as a man with no fear of sharks.
It’s a nice step for Turteltaub to take with prep for The Meg to get some real sharks involved with the cast before filming. The director has a lot to prove, since he hasn’t directed a big-budget action movie since 2010’s adaptation of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. That movie grossed just $215 million worldwide off a budget of $150 million on production alone. With The Meg, he gets another $150 million budget and another shot at box office success. And with Statham aboard, the movie at least has a chance to be a fun time and a worthy adaptation of Steve Alten’s novels.
In Homer’s Iliad: The Shield of Memory, Dr. Kenneth Atchity follows Homer’s footsteps through the Iliad like a lover intent on winning his heart and mind. What’s more, Atchity invites us to a beautiful symposium, discussing his journey clearly and compellingly, enticing us with amazing glimpses into the ingenious mind and motives of Homer.
In spite of everything you may have learned about Homer’s Iliad, Dr. Ken proves that it is an epic love story. In fact, it’s such a powerful love story that it can generate immortality in the form of human memories, perpetuating human desire to imitate this epic level of love. And, if we are successful, this is the kind of love that actuates social stability and brings about peace in our lives.
“In his appreciation of the poem,” says Atchity about the Iliad, “Even the man for whom war is the reality, therefore, can find peace.” He explains, “While historical peace may be ephemeral and rare, human peace is not only possible, but also truly realized, in the poems of memory.” (1)
Especially in Homer’s Iliad–arguably the greatest poem of memory every recorded.
Let the Symposium Begin
The late poet and novelist, John Gardner, in his foreword to Homer’s Iliad: The Shield of Memory, states that he knows of no better introduction to the Iliad than this book. Gardner hails Atchity for his close analysis of specific themes and images throughout the Iliad, for proving “what we all suspected all along, that the poem is a brilliantly organized work, philosophically profound, perhaps the noblest work of art produced in the entire tradition of Western Civilization.” (2)
Reclining comfortably, now, upon our symposium couches, Atchity explains that, even as we are watching over Hephaistos’ shoulder, Hephaistos is doing essentially the same thing that Homer is doing, as we are reading or listening to the Iliad:
The artist creates the world, through and to his own vision of order.
Achilles’ shield contains the whole cosmos known to Homeric man—of the inanimate stars and waters, and of all life and time and space and action. Forged into the very substance of this supreme tool of warfare is a detailed vision that transcends all momentary circumstances, all individual fates, and reveals humanity in its continuing, essential character. In the process of its making, the ideal and real become one dynamic continuum. (3)
The Shield of Achilles is a Symbol of the Entire Iliad
Encompassing, as Atchity puts it, the poem’s “mnemonic technique, purpose, and function,” the Shield of Achilles is a divine masterpiece–at once the central image and a symbol of the entire epic. As a supernatural mnemonic device, Hephaistos’ creation “remains untarnished as only a memory can be.”
Atchity has become our bard, compelling us to lean forward as he continues, “And as we maintain that breathtakingly clear vision in our memory, it directly affects how we view ourselves and our actions, instilling in our minds the very order that fashioned it.” (4)
As a devoted student of Dr. Ken’s visionary perspective, I see Achilles whipping his horses and riding into the fray. I understand that when he swears to end the war single-handedly, he is swearing to protect the Achaeans who follow him and all the future generations who will follow him, as well–even mine.
We see that poetry, as Homer conceives of and practices it, is the ordering agent in human affairs, a form of worship as well as a sign of man’s awareness of divine order. From a detachment that is virtually Olympian—because the Muses possess the poet with a vision of past, present, and future, and of both sides of the conflict in all their complications—Homer presents the happy results of orderly human action and the disastrous consequences of disorderly behavior.
All mortals and immortals within the Iliadic world are polarized by these cosmic opposites: order and disorder. Each character is defined in terms of his link with one or the other. The great shield is a magnificent emblem of poetic order from which ideal human society issues.(5)
Focusing on the Central Images Within the Iliad
Atchity’s profound philosophical understanding of Homeric society is achieved by focusing on central images within the Iliad. He sees the ideal world depicted on the divine Shield of Achilles. And he sees this ideal world functioning as a counterbalance to the social upheaval in Achilles’ real world.
Atchity attributes this social upheaval to the simultaneous decline of the “heroic” social system colliding with the rise of the “familial” social system in Ancient Greece.
The Shield of Achilles, offering a new, enlightened social system with both heroic and familial components harmonized within the social hierarchy, depicts Homer’s poetic resolution to the social upheaval occurring in the Iliadic world. By serving one another in mutual reciprocity, Homer’s vision foresees individuals perfectly balanced within the wider community.
As Atchity explains, the tension between the two social systems becomes a constructive force in the ideal world, each serving the other. This is because the emotional strength of the familial system, which binds primarily via love between individuals/families/community, is additionally strengthened by the pragmatic power of the heroic system, which binds primarily via honored oaths of loyalty to individuals/tribes/confederations. (6)
The Turbulent Relationship Between Order and Disorder
The primary theme woven into the chaotic events of the Iliad, on every level from the human to the divine, is the turbulent relationship between order and disorder. And, unfortunately for the participants, social disorder is the natural, but terrible result as social systems collide.
“Specifically,” states Atchity, “the poem is a statement of the consequences to order when disorder is inserted at any level of the hierarchical cosmos as Homer conceives of it, and the restoration of order through the obliteration of the disorderly intrusion. Order, once interrupted, can only be returned through the destruction of disorder: that is the lesson of the Iliad.” (7)
Turning his piercing gaze to the marriage bed of Hektor, upon which the close of the Trojan War pivots as Hektor’s body is gently laid to rest prior to his funeral, Atchity recognizes a particularly antithetical image. While the Shield of Achilles offers an image of the victorious ascent of order over disorder, the marriage bed of Hektor depicts the terrible price humans must pay for the destruction of disorder.
As she mourns the loss of her husband, Atchity notes that “Andromache’s lament concludes with the image of the marriage bed deprived of its natural occupant. It is in this way that Homer communicates his characteristically social perspective: that war ends, as it begins, with conjugal disorder.” (8)
Indeed, it is the “heroic” social system embodied in the character of Paris that inspires his selfish desire to seduce the wife of an Argive king until she abandons her conjugal bed in Sparta and travels with him to Troy.
Helen is human progress itself, vacillating between two orders, waiting in suspension for a continuity that will come only when their conflict has been transformed into cooperation, their antithetical potentials synthesized. The fact that Helen’s individual will is suspended but that her actions, although involuntary, have collective repercussions which are material for memory reveals Homer’s refusal to accept either norm, the heroic or the familial, as sufficient; neither, alone, provides man with a divinely-sanctioned order for social well-being, or even for social survival.
Inasmuch as he rejects both purely communal and purely personal motivations, Homer stands as a prophet of the great Athenian phenomenon which managed to gloriously combine the (“know thyself”) of Socrates with the holistic spirit of Plato’s Republic. When a balance is maintained between these two orientations, human nature achieves its fullest, most nearly divine expression. (9)
It Is Our Memories That Make Our Heroes Immortal
In the final analysis, then, it is our love of epic stories, even (or perhaps especially) epic love stories framed with all the gory constructs of war, that fire our finest synapses, indelibly etching into our memories the finest deeds of the finest heroes.
It is our memories, in fact, that make our heroes immortal. Dr. Atchity explains that this is because memory communicates the promise of continuity on an essentially human level–remembered words can bring living order even to fatal encounters. (10)
I think that Dr. Ken has brought to light a very appealing point about the enduring love relationship between life and memory. Blessed by this very poignant relationship, “memory shields the individuals from death.” (11)
We never forget the ones we love, as long as they live on in our memories. Even within the most mundane levels of society, we may cast aside our fear of death, knowing that our loved ones will keep us alive in their memories.
How much more glorious to be the source of ageless memories of an epic victory–A magnificent hero ushering in the triumph of order over disorder?
As Dr. Ken explains,
We understand, with the Achilles who no longer shuns death, that the shield gives him access to an immortality that is purely human: though he, like all who share human nature, can’t escape mortality in time, he will have an orderly place forever in the minds of men to come who will hear how he carried this shield into battle to restore the honor of his dear friend and of the Argive nation.” (12)
Achilles’ personal love for Patroklos becomes, at the end of the story, the pattern for the international love between him and the old king of Troy; and the epic ends, not with the death of Achilles or even of Troy or Priam, but with a ritual that promises the continuity of human order—made possible by Achilles’ loving gesture: the return of Hektor’s body. (13)
A really epic love story–from the beginning, all the way to the end.
…Heavy sigh… I love a great love story, don’t you? This book, Homer’s Iliad: The Shield of Memory by Dr. Kenneth Atchity, just keeps getting better and better, every time I read it.
Pick it up on Amazon and get the added bonus of seeing my reconstruction of the Shield of Achilles on his Kindle edition cover–A very great honor that Dr. Atchity has bestowed upon my work!
(1) Atchity, Kenneth. Homer’s Iliad: The Shield of Memory (Kindle Locations 1843-1846). Story Merchant. Kindle Edition.
(2) ibid, (Kindle Locations 65-68).
(3) ibid, (Kindle Locations 109-114).
(4) ibid, (Kindle Locations 117-119).
(5) ibid, (Kindle Locations 130-135).
(6) ibid, (Kindle Locations 139-145).
(7) ibid, (Kindle Locations 148-150).
(8) ibid, (Kindle Locations 2002-2005).
(9) ibid, (Kindle Locations 2041-2053).
(10) ibid, (Kindle Locations 1819-1829).
(11) ibid, (Kindle Location 1857).
(12) ibid, (Kindle Locations 109-114).
(13) ibid, (Kindle Locations 99-155).
The original author of The Meg has seen the trailers for the upcoming Jason Statham shark movie based on his books, and has been suitably impressed. Posting on social media, writer Steve Alten confirms that the trailers are complete and that they are “excellent.” He also gives a reason for the delay in their release and teases the arrival of the first official poster, which he promises is nothing like the covers of his novels.
The film is based on Alten’s first novel about the giant Megalodon shark who menaces divers and scientists. It was published in 1997 and titled Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror. The book spawned an ongoing franchise, with the sixth novel due later this year. A film was originally mooted for the first book almost as soon as it was published, but remained in development hell for many years. Production only moved forward significantly when Jason Statham was confirmed as the lead, and filming started in 2016. It was originally marked for a theatrical release on March 2, 2018, but was then delayed to a summer release in August. There have been some on-set images and photos, but no official footage has yet been seen. However the trailer was recently tapped to drop sometime during April, giving us our first glimpse of the massive shark in action.
“I’ve actually seen the two trailers and they are excellent. The powers-that-be decided it would be best to delay their launch from late March until April. The reason has to do with analytics and if the viewing audience sees a trailer too early and then the movie comes out much later, they are left with a false impression that the movie had already been out… What is important is that the trailers are finished and they WILL come out in April…. Also debuting in April will be the movie poster. I’ve seen the mock-up and I really like it. It features an angle of the MEG that has never appeared on one of my MEG covers.”
While it’s unlikely that Alten would openly criticize any of the marketing at the moment, it is encouraging that he praises what he’s seen so far. There is some speculation that the first trailer may arrive around the same time as monster movie Rampage opens in theaters. They are both Warner Bros. movies and it would make sense to promote The Meg to the same audience.
While sharks continue to dominate on home media and TV screens, with the likes of the sixth Sharknado movie and Deep Blue Sea 2, The Meg stands alone this year as a bigger-budgeted film of this particular sub-genre and that may work well in its favor. Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) is a solid director of action movies, and Statham is sure to bring his own reliable brand of thrills and humor to the story, as the heroic deep sea diver Jonas Taylor. The cast also includes Ruby Rose (John Wick: Chapter Three) and Rainn Wilson (The Office).
Many authors see an e-book as a starting place for their publishing dreams. Their ultimate goal is to publish their book as a print book. This is certainly possible, as illustrated by the story of Amanda Hocking’s self-published e-books that caught fire through the following she built through her platform of networked blogs. Her efforts ultimately led to sales of over a million dollars and then to a traditional publishing contract.
Other authors have also found their way from e-book to print success. Author Victorine E. Lieske e-published and found her way onto the New York Times Best Sellers list with her suspense romances. She now offers paperback covers of her novels on her website. Yet another success story is Aaron Patterson’s. He achieved a No. 1 Amazon Kindle Best Selling Book status with his e-Book and now also sells print books. For more success e-book stories, check out Novlr , a website dedicated to reading, writing, and Internet fiction. Generally, successful e-Book authors redistribute with indie-published print books.
Heady stuff, but don’t go crazy with excitement because only relatively few authors are achieving this kind of success. Proceed with the idea that you might succeed if you work hard, your content is excellent, and you educate yourself. There are a myriad of print-on-demand publishing (POD) options available to successful e-book authors. Be aware that print options continue to evolve. Author Solutions has partnered with several traditional publishing companies to provide a hybrid-platform for self-published authors.
Finally, no one can guarantee that your book will be a hit. All publishing is a risk. The beauty of e-publishing is you have a chance to test the waters before trying paper copies. The low production costs and the ability to test the popularity of a book in the market helps self-published authors make informed decisions. Research the success stories. If your e-books achieve significant sales, educating yourself will put you a step ahead of the competition, if you should later decide to print books.
by Molly Blaisdell